Health and Environmental Impact

Glycerin Information Note

Glycerin (C3H8O3) is a common component in many pharmaceutical and household products. At room temperature it is a clear, viscous liquid that is soluble in any amount of water. Below 63°F glycerin will freeze and has to be handled accordingly (1). Glycerin is a natural component in all living organisms and is not considered toxic. It is safe to dispose in small amounts in water sources where it decomposes relatively fast and has few environmental effects (2). Glycerin biodegrades into numerous unreactive organic molecules in soil and also has little to no environmental effect in mild to moderate amounts. The PNEC (predicted no effect concentration) of glycerin in soil is 92.1 mg/kg (3). The concentration level of glycerin in water considered to be nontoxic to most types of fish is below 5,000 mg/l over a 24 hour period (4). Furthermore, the concentration of glycerin to water that is considered to be nontoxic to most types of microorganisms and algae is below 10,000 mg/l (5).

Glycerin is also expected to degrade rapidly in the environment due to bacterial action. Closed bottle tests, which mimic soil conditions, show that approximately 92% of available glycerin is consumed in a 30 day time period (6). In addition, glycerin rapidly undergoes photo-oxidation reactions in the atmosphere, exhibiting a half-life of approximately 6.8 hours (7).

Since there have only been around 50 cases of glycerin spills that have actually caused any type of damage environmentally, it can be concluded that this is an extremely safe compound (2). In large amounts, such as a large scale spill or unrefined flow out of a biodiesel plant, there can be environmental effects. It has been proven in cases both in Iowa and Missouri, that if a water source such as a pond or stream is subjected to extremely high amounts of glycerin, large scale die offs of aquatic life will occur due to the large amount of glycerin degrading and absorbing the oxygen in the water (2). The glycerin itself is not toxic to aquatic animals, but at high concentrations, marine life is suffocated from a lack of oxygen.

The shelf-life of glycerin in a sealed container can be upwards of two years at near ideal conditions and over a year before any significant degradation occurs under normal warehouse conditions in sealed containers. The ideal storage conditions are vessels with pure nitrogen gas filling the vapor space above the liquid (8).


© 2012 by BenchMark Energy Corporation, all rights reserved.


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